UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 12 | Oct.
Eureka Moments in Research
When the light goes on
By Brian Lin
Legend goes that when Archimedes discovered how to measure
the volume of an irregular solid and thereby determine the
purity of a gold object, he jumped out of the bathtub, running
into the street, buck naked, yelling Eureka! I have
While slightly less dramatic, some UBC researchers
eureka moments are no less inspiring.
For me it happened at about 3 a.m. when I was feeding
my niece, remembers Pharmaceutical Sciences Assoc. Prof.
Kishor Wasan, who was doing research on how hydrophobic drugs
interact with plasma lipoproteins. I noticed how the
baby was sucking on the nipple, in a sort of pursed lip motion,
and it hit me that the drugs partition the lipoproteins in
a pursed movement. The next morning, I woke up and read my
notes and was delighted that it wasnt gibberish. It
actually made sense.
For VP Research Indira Samarasekera, whose area of research
is continuous casting of steel, a baffling moment quickly
turned into an unexpected discovery when she realized that
not only was the shape of the mould important but the dynamic
interaction with the newly solidifying shell was a factor,
The results were exactly opposite to our predictions
based on the shape of the mould alone, recalls Samarasekera.
But we tested the new theory and it paved the way for
a set of changes in the design and operation of continuous
casting moulds that led to quality improvements.
Physics and Astronomy Assoc. Prof. Jaymie Matthews
eureka moment consisted of absolutely nothing.
My colleagues and I had completed an ambitious program
to monitor the subtle brightness variations of a rapidly pulsating
magnetic star in a remote observatory in the Andes Mountains
of northern Chile in 1989, says Matthews.
We used two telescopes simultaneously to capture the
stars radiation both in visible and infrared light,
Matthews explains. In our visible-light observations,
we were rewarded with the expected signal.
In the infrared, we saw - to use a technical term
Its been almost 13 years since those observations,
says Matthews. Last month, I reviewed a South African
PhD students thesis, which was inspired entirely by
that null result. In this case, finding nothing was one of
the most satisfying discoveries we could have ever hoped to